Question: What is your thinking on how sail area should be positioned between the fore triangle and mainsail on short handed cruising boats?
Answer: I think there are two ways to go: The first is to have a big mainsail and a small fore triangle so that the jibs are small, and to be a sloop. The second is to have a bigger fore triangle and be a true cutter (one that carries the staysail all the time with a jib topsail (Yankee)). I think that the first is better for inshore sailing since the boat is easily tacked but the second is better for offshore since, particularly if both staysail and jib topsail are on roller furlers, it gives more flexibility.
Morgan’s Cloud is a cutter with a large fore triangle. Her relatively tall mast and large sail plan allow her to sail well in as little as 6 to 8 knots of apparent wind and we can go all the way to heaved-to in gale force winds without making any sail changes using our two foresails on roller furlers and 3 deep reefs in the main. The downside is that short tacking inshore with two sets of sheets to handle is hard work for two people.
The jib topsail (Yankee) is only 110% of the fore triangle and high cut. This has several advantages:
- When the sail is reefed you do not have to move the sheet lead as you would with a low cut sail.
- Good visibility under the sail.
- With the staysail rolled in the jib top makes a great high cut blast reacher with no danger of scooping up a sea into the foot.
- With the staysail rolled out the combined area is only 10% less than a 150% overlapping #1 genoa, a sail that, in my opinion, has no business on any boat at sea—they are just plain dangerous. One thing about going to windward effectively with the cutter rig is that you must have the sheet angles on both foresails perfect and the rig tuned right; however, once you get things correct the rig is very fast, particularly offshore in swell. (This is the rig we won our class with twice in the Newport to Bermuda race.)
The big draw backs with the cutter rig is having to handle running back stays and having to tack the jib topsail in front of the staysail stay. The runners are a pain inshore, but on Morgan’s Cloud this is not as bad as it might be, because the anchor points on the hull are far enough forward so that when going to windward we can leave both back stays on; however, because of the reduced angle they have to be really tight. We make this work with 2:1 runner tails and powerful dedicated two speed winches for the runners. Of course the anchor points must be suitably massive to take the additional load. (Update, 2007: With our new carbon fibre mast, we no longer have to use the runners except in big seas.)
Once offshore, running backs are really not much more of a problem than being a sloop. Particularly since I believe that any offshore boat should have an internal forestay and runners to stabilize the rig in big seas and to carry a storm staysail.
Getting the jib top through the fore triangle when tacking is not as bad as it sounds because the overlap is relatively modest and the high cut foot helps too.